David Rawlings and Gillian Welch have been musical partners since the beginning of their career in the ’90s, but up until now it was Welch whose name carried the prestige of Grammy winner.
While musically one is rarely without the other, this time it’s Rawlings whose name is printed across the album that’s drawn Grammy attention. “Poor David’s Almanack” is the first to hold Rawlings’ name solely. Previous full -and albums (Welch’s usually consist of stripped-down duo recordings) were released under the name the David Rawlings’ Machine. It’s the song “Cumberland Gap” that was nominated for Best American Roots Song.
“We definitely weren’t expecting anything from the Grammys for this new record,” says Rawlings.
He and Welch hadn’t planned to release “Poor David’s Almanack” when they began writing songs.
“The impetus for them was a subconscious desire to have some songs that were connected to traditional phrases or melodies that were simple structures that would fit in well with the last record we did, ‘Nashville Obsolete,’ ” Rawlings explains a week before the tour that brings the band to Neighborhood Theatre Friday.
“A lot of those songs were long and complicated, with more modern structures. A song might have three sections. A verse and a chorus and pre-chorus, and maybe an instrumental release. If I play a lot of songs like that in sequence, I get a desire to play something like ‘Going Down the Road Feeling Bad.’ Maybe one section that repeats and has variation within what it says, but musically has a strong but simple path that you follow.”
When he began penning new songs during summer 2016, he says: “It was pretty clear I was working on them to pepper into the show.”
So how does the duo know if they’re coming up with a Gillian Welch record, a Rawlings record or something for the Machine?
“With Gillian, when we get something started that really connects with her we always know it. Honestly, it would be nice if she sang everything in my mind. But there has to be a real personal connection with her songs (for her).”
Coincidentally, it’s “Cumberland Gap” that Welch connects most with from “Almanack.” “That was the one she had the deepest connection to, and she’s singing half the lead,” he adds.
Another standout is the curiously titled “Money Is the Meat in the Coconut,” which is an old saying Rawlings came across.
“It reminded me of something I wish I’d come upon 20 years ago. It would’ve been fun to pick with (deceased roots legend) John Hartford,” Rawlings says. “It’s not an empty saying. There’s a comment on life that’s a little cynical. That’s something John Hartford did as well as anybody. Something that seemed like nonsense, but had some insight into human nature.”
An Evening With David Rawlings
When: 8 p.m. Friday.
Where: Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St.
Details: 704-942-7997; www.neighborhoodtheatre.com.